Parenting comes with a host of unexpected side effects that, to be honest, I would not have believed true before becoming a mother. Feelings like fear, guilt, overwhelming self doubt, illogical anger, and outright speechless moments are some of these. Even if I had believed they were a natural part of parenting, I couldn’t have possibly understood them until I experienced them…or at least that’s what I told myself.
In reality, I have felt these same emotions many times over, and so have most of my clients. In my therapy practice, I work with people everyday who feel scared, guilty, shameful, overwhelmed, and angry. Truth is, anytime we have an emotional investment in a situation, be it our careers, a relationship, a future goal, and anything that holds a high level of importance for us, we experience these negative side effects to some degree. There can be a desperation to avoid a career faltering, a relationship ending, or a goal going unrealized.
The fear, desperation, and guilt seep into our psyche, and it changes us. We alter our thinking and behavior and thereby the outcome of any given opportunity. In short, these negative emotions, or our diligent avoidance of, make the feared outcome more likely to happen.
There is no greater emotional investment or attachment than parenting. We crave happiness for our children, and too often, we don’t know what to do when that happiness is threatened. As parents we are required to force all sorts of awful things on our children. We make them take their medicine when they are sick; we force them to eat healthy foods; do their homework; wear a helmet; and worst of all…we make them go to bed at a reasonable time!
Obviously, we can objectively look at this list and say “Yes, I do those things, and no I don’t feel bad about it.” However, in the moment when our children are in tears at the dinner table, screaming as you hold them down for the medicine that will heal them, or your teen is shouting how she hates you, it doesn’t feel like a good thing. These are only a few of the moments in our parenting that bring us pain or doubt. There are so many situations that we must face as parents that are difficult.
Some parents give in to negotiating at the dinner table (sooo guilty of this one) in order to avoid a melt down. Some parents put off talking to their teenagers, pretend not to see a rule being broken, let homework slide, or anything else that will keep the status quo in an effort to have a “happy” evening. After a long day of work, and grown up life in general, what we crave is a supportive, loving, and peaceful family evening. The disappointment of not having that is sometimes too much to take.
Although we crave these serene nights and smooth flowing mornings there is only one path to achieve them, and unfortunately, it’s a bumpy one. See, not having these discussions, not enforcing the broken rule, giving in to the negotiating…all of it only ensures there is more of it.
Time to grow up and get over our fear because if we don’t, we are dooming ourselves (and our children) to a life of chaos. Seeing our children hurt or unhappy is definitely at the top of the list of difficult moments in our lives as parents. Unfortunately, they have to, at some point and time, be both hurt or unhappy. It’s how they grow, how the learn, and how they develop coping skills for future pains. A child who is never told “no” at home will not know how to process hearing it from someone out in the world. A child who makes all of their own rules will struggle with other inevitable authority figures. Growing up with minimal expectations will cause enormous difficulty when society begins to place higher expectations during those early adult years.
Many of you reading this are probably saying, “I already know all of this,” and I believe you. By the time we have children we are well aware of how the world works and what it takes to thrive in it. We know very well what our children are going to need to thrive in it, yet too often we do not follow through with knowledge. Here are some questions to ask yourself about why we drop the ball:
- What is my overall goal with this current situation?
- Have I faced any other situation like this in my parenting (is there an underlying pattern)?
- Does this pattern exist in other areas of my life?
- What feelings does this situation stir within me?
- Are my actions increasing that feeling or calming it?
- What changes in my actions can I make to change the situation?
So often we think, “If you would just (fill in the blank).” This line of thinking leads to increased frustration because we can’t force anyone to do anything (even our kids). We can’t make them like taking medicine, enjoy homework, love their bike helmet, etc. But we can change ourselves and our thinking.
Giving up the avoidance, fear of discomfort, desire to change others thinking, and desperation for everyone to be happy, will change your life. Letting go of that tightly held belief that discomfort is bad and to be avoided will give you the freedom to grow. We only grow stronger through healthy discomfort. This goes for parenting as well as every aspect of your life. You can do it!